Monday, December 30, 2013

Lantern Parade

My Christmas tree is still up and we only just got around to celebrating Hanukkah a week ago, so I'm going to declare that it's still not to late to share some festival of lights celebrating we did this year in our 5's class.

We decided, in honor the approaching Winter Solstice, to have a lantern parade around the Center of the Universe. Our school day ends at 4 p.m. and in our minds we had lately been heading home in the dark, although when we studied it, we saw that it was really just dusk. So the idea was to extend our class time a little on the Thursday before the holiday break, long enough that we would be together at least until sunset, which was going to be 4:18 p.m. 

Our first attempt at making lanterns was a classic version of paper mache involving small balloons as the base, wrapping them with tissue paper that had been dipped in liquid fabric starch. It proved, in my judgement, to be a little much for the kids, and while we produced a couple dozen of these "lanterns," my professional judgement was that they would perhaps be pretty, but insufficient as lanterns.

This is always the problem with agendas. It wasn't purely an adult agenda because the kids were fired up about the lantern parade as well, but if this was going to happen with actual lanterns, it was up to the grown-ups to hold the vision between now and then, and it didn't look to me like it was going to happen with these particular lanterns. Nile's grandma Kathleen, a professional-level crafter, came to the rescue, saying she had some ideas for simpler, fool-proof lanterns. I've learned I can trust her completely, but just in case, I ran down to Chinatown that evening for a stash of paper lanterns, a back-up plan that gave me a bit of extra serenity in case all else failed.

In the meantime, Fergus' mom Adrienne was in charge of finding a supply of glow sticks which we planned to use for illumination. There had been quite a bit of discussion about using real candles, both among the children as well as the adults, with some people of all ages being enthusiastic about the idea of real fire, while others were nervous, especially since we were manufacturing our lanterns at the last minute which had pushed fire safety to the bottom of the list -- not a good time to toss fire into the mix. Next year, we'll plan it better, maybe make the lanterns from baby food jars or something, but for this maiden lantern parade we streamlined things with the glow sticks. 

As part of expressing our disappointment, I think, about not burning a little solstice fire, a group of adults were out on the playground as the light faded, discussing inspiring fire-based things we had experienced. Several of us had taken part in ceremonies in which paper hot air balloons had been released, usually with the symbolism of our human wishes being carried into the universe or something. My own experience was last New Years Eve when I was one of a party of revelers who fuddled around in the dark on the shores of Lake Washington with tissue paper balloons that finally rose into the air one at a time, aglow with their buoying flames, some of which became fully enflamed, burning out beautifully against the deep purple midnight sky. Henry's dad Chris told us about how he had made similar balloons from newspaper as a boy, telling us that if there was no wind, how they would retain their shape for a time, even when reduced to a form of mere ash. This lead to Chris offering, as a way to bring fire to the solstice, to make a little hot air balloon show for all of us as a way to kick off the lantern parade.

I was imagining something along the lines of the newspaper idea, but Chris isn't a man for half measures as you can see in the pictures. Using a nice, hot charcoal fire, we sent his homemade paper balloon into the darkening sky again and again as the children counted down. This was good. This created just the right vibe for a lantern parade.

As you can also tell, however, it was no where near dark enough for our lanterns to take effect so we turned off the lights indoors and marched around in there for a bit before taking it to the streets, the kids proudly waving lanterns made from plastic cups, bubble wrap, and empty soda bottles, as well as some made from paper mache -- I'd been wrong in my professional judgement.

We took our loud, giddy parade out the gate and past The Troll, then headed down to the ship canal where we shared the Burke-Gilman trail with cyclists forming the early edge of the evening commute. Some of the kids were careful with their lanterns, while others beat and banged them, using them to prod and test the world. We made our way to our local chocolate factory where we played under the topiary dinosaurs for a time. 

There's meditation master Sri Chinmoy holding his own torch along the banks of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

We were still out in the world at sunset, 4:18, which didn't mean darkness, but it was dark enough, I think, for us to know we were together at a time and place outside the usual. Upon our return, many of us stuck around as the darkness finished falling, drinking hot cider from a thermos. We discussed scheduling next year's lantern parade as a night class.

The next day, Adrienne reported that their lanterns really popped in the dark on their walk home.

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